John Alen

John Alen (1476 – 28 July 1534) was an English canon lawyer, whose later years were spent in Ireland. He held office as Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and was a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. For a few years he played a central role in the government of Ireland.

The Most Reverend

John Alen

Archbishop of Dublin
Primate of Ireland
ChurchRoman Catholic
Appointed3 September 1529
In office1529-1534
PredecessorHugh Inge
SuccessorGeorge Browne
Other postsLord Chancellor of Ireland
Ordination25 August 1499
Consecration13 March 1530
Personal details
Coltishall, Norfolk, England
Died28 July 1534
Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland

He was murdered during the Rebellion of "Silken Thomas" Fitzgerald, who is said to have wrongly believed that Alen had been responsible for the death of Thomas's father, the 8th Earl of Kildare, who had in fact died a natural death. Despite his undoubted grievance against the archbishop, Thomas always maintained that he had intended to spare Alen's life but that his order (delivered in Irish) to "take him away" had been misinterpreted by his followers as a command to kill him.


He was born in Coltishall, Norfolk. The Alans were a numerous clan and six of his cousins settled in Ireland including his namesake John Alan, who was Lord Chancellor in his turn, and his brother Thomas Alen of Kilteel, Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge,[1] graduated in the latter place, and spent some years in Italy, partly at Rome, for studies and for business of Archbishop Warham of Canterbury. He was ordained as a priest 25 August 1499, and held various parochial benefices until 1522, about which time he attracted the attention of Cardinal Wolsey, whose helpful commissary he was in the matter of the suppression of the minor monasteries. As such, his conduct, says James Gairdner, "gave rise to a considerable outcry, and complaints were made about it to the king".[2]

He continued to receive ecclesiastical advancement, assisted Wolsey in his legatine functions, among other things in the suit instituted by the cardinal against Henry VIII in May, 1527, by which it was sought at first to have the marriage with Catharine of Aragon declared invalid without her knowledge. In the summer of the same year he accompanied the cardinal on his mission to France, and finally (August, 1528) was rewarded with the archepiscopal see of Dublin.[2]

Soon after his arrival, he was invested with the Chancellorship. For a short time until Wolsey's downfall Alen was a dominant figure in the Irish administration, forming one of an "inner council of three" on the Privy Council of Ireland. In 1532, Alan was relieved of the office of Chancellor through the influence of Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare.[3]

He was relieved from asserting, against George Cromer, Archbishop of Armagh, the legatine authority of Wolsey by the latter's fall (October, 1529). With the rest of the English clergy he had to pay a heavy fine (1531) for violation of the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire, in recognizing the legatine authority of Wolsey, then, in the king's eyes, a heinous crime, and a reason for the cardinal's indictment.[2] Alen survived Wolsey's downfall but his political influence was never the same again.


As a former follower of Wolsey, he was hated by the followers of the great Irish house of Kildare (the FitzGeralds), whose chief, Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, had been imprisoned by Wolsey in the Tower of London from 1526 to 1530, and again, by the King, early in 1534. Soon a false rumour spread through Ireland that the earl had been put to death, and Earl Gerald's son, "Silken Thomas", rose in revolt in 1534. The Archbishop, anticipating a siege of Dublin Castle, attempted to escape to England.[3] He embarked at Dame Gate, but his boat was driven ashore at Clontarf.[4] He fled for refuge to the home of his friend Thomas St. Lawrence at Artane Castle near Dublin, but his hiding place was betrayed.[5] Lord Thomas arrived before the house in hot pursuit of him. The Archbishop was dragged out in his shirt, and, falling on his knees, begged for mercy. Archbishop Alen was killed by two retainers of "Silken Thomas" Fitzgerald, John Teeling and Nicholas Wafer, at Artane Castle, 28 July 1534. Whether Silken Thomas actually ordered the killing or not remains a subject of dispute:[2] there is a well-known tradition that Teeling and Wafer misunderstood his command in Gaelic to "take this fellow away" as a command to murder him.[lower-alpha 1] Lord Thomas subsequently insisted that he meant only that the Archbishop should be removed to custody. He afterwards sent his chaplain to Rome to obtain absolution for him from the excommunication incurred by this murder.[2]


Sir James Ware says of Alen that "he was of a turbulent spirit, but a man of hospitality and learning, and a diligent inquirer into antiquities".[3]


Alen wrote a treatise on the pallium, Epistola de pallii significatione activa et passiva on the occasion of his reception of this pontifical symbol, and another De consuetudinibus ac statutis in tutoriis causis observandis. He seems also to have been a man of methodical habits, for in the archives of the Anglican archdiocese of Dublin are still preserved two important registers made by his order, the Liber Niger, or Black Book, and the Repertorium Viride, or Green Repertory, both so called, after the custom of the age, from the colour of the binding. The former is a chartularium of the archdiocese, or collection of its most important documents, and the latter a list of the parishes of the see as it was in 1530.[6]


  1. James Gairdner in the DNB wrote "The archbishop knelt before [Lord Thomas] in his shirt and mantle, entreating for mercy. But the followers of Lord Thomas, mistaking, as some say, an order from their master, which was simply to take him away and put him in confinement, butchered him and most of his attendants without remorse" (Gairdner 1885, p. 306).
  1. Alen, John, A Cambridge Alumni Database, University of Cambridge
  2. Shahan, Thomas. "John Allen." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 22 Jan. 2015
  3. Webb, Alfred. "Archbishop John Allen", A Compendium of Irish Biography, M.H. Gill & Co., Dublin, 1878
  4. Gairdner 1885, p. 306.
  5. Ball, F. Elrington History of the Parishes of Dublin Vol. 5 1917 Dublin Alexander Thom and Co p.64
  6. "Notes and queries", Oxford Journals, CLXX (mar21): 209, 1936


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Shahan, Thomas Joseph (1907). "John Allen (I)" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Robert Appleton. Endnotes:
    • Brady, Episcopal Succession in England, Ireland, and Scotland (Rome, 1876), I, 325 sqq.
    • Gairdner, James (1885). "Allen, John (1476-1534)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 1. pp. 305–307. ;
    • Anthony à Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (ed. Bliss), I, 76
    • C. P. Meehan, in tr. Daly, Rise, Increase and Fall of the Geraldines, Earls of Desmond (Dublin, 1878), 53, 54
    • Ware, Annals of Ireland, ad an. 1534
    • Cox, Hibernia Anglicana, 234
    • Ware, Irish Bishops (ed. Harris, Dublin, 1764), 347
    • Alphons Bellesheim, Gesch. D. kathol. Kirche in Irland (Mainz, 1890), II, 5, 6, 16, 17.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Hugh Inge
Archbishop of Dublin
Succeeded by
George Browne
as Anglican Archbishop (1536)
Succeeded by
Hugh Curwen
as Catholic Archbishop (1555)
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